Album Booklet - Resonus Classics

Album Booklet - Resonus Classics

Hafliði Hallgrímsson

choral works


Schola Cantorum Reykjavík

Hörður Áskelsson (conductor)

Hafliði Hallgrímsson

Schola Cantorum Reykjavík

Hörður Áskelsson conductor

Björn Steinar Sólbergsson organ

Elísabet Waage harp

Ásgeir H. Steingrímsson trumpet

Steef van Oosterhout percussion

Choral works

1. Rúra, rúra barni (2010)

2. Myrtuskógur (1993)

Níunda Stund (1993/2006)

3. Engill

4. Níunda Stund

5. Nótt

6. Endurkoma (2012)

7. Sónhenda LXXVIII (2010)

8. Your Image (1986/2010)

9. Lofið Guð I hans helgidómi (1996/2012)










Total playing time


All tracks are world premiere recordings

Hafliði Hallgrímsson

(Photography: Stefan Hafliðason)

The choral works of Hafliði Hallgrímsson

Choral music represents a small but growing

part of Hafliði Hallgrímsson’s output. With

the exception of his Passía of 2000, these

works are all relatively small in scale and,

with the further exception of some folksong

arrangements, all of these shorter works

are represented on this disc. Many of them

were commissioned by their performers

here, the Schola Cantorum Reykjavík.

Hallgrímsson’s writing for choir is principally

harmonic. There is little in this collection that

is complex in terms of polyphony. When the

polyphony is richer, as in Endurkoma, for

example, it is for specific dramatic effect.

More often a single melody is closely

followed by a swirl of harmony in the same

way that a calligrapher’s pen gives depth

and life to a line through tiny changes in

pressure or angle. Hallgrímsson is led by

his ear and his instincts, honed over many

years of careful self-criticism. “Like a painter,”

he says, “you dip into the box and come up

with something that works, naturally, from

experience, from your instinct.” It is

essential for the chords to “bloom”.

Rúra, rúra barni: sleep, sleep now darling.

The disc begins with one of its simplest,

but most immediately affecting pieces, an

arrangement of a traditional lullaby from

the Faroe Islands. Hallgrímsson’s personal

maxim is never to use a text until it has

become an old friend. However, when

unexpectedly – “and I do not know why” –

he was sent the original lullaby by a Faroese

composer, he decided to arrange it as a

Christmas gift for Hörður Askelsson, the

conductor of the Schola Cantorum.

The subtle and occasionally eerie a capella

choral writing (reference to “hitting the wall” is

a traditional method for warding off evil spirits)

is bolstered by the addition of a trumpet soloist

playing gently curling ornaments. The text refers

to “Pappa blowing his big lur”, an Icelandic

and Scandinavian trumpet of the Bronze

Age, curved into a twisted S-shape. Although

its function has been lost to us, the lur is

a fabled instrument in northern Europe.

Its sound, however, like that of many ancient

trumpets from around the world, was

probably somewhat raucous. This quality

has not been retained by Hallgrímsson, whose

super-restrained writing adds warm but

melancholy echoes (father is away with his

horn, possibly hunting, maybe at war) and

a resonant, dreamlike space around the

mother’s song.

Myrtuskógur is the first of several of these

pieces to have been written as a memorial to

someone close to Hallgrímsson. In this case

the dedicatee is his late sister. The music is a

setting of the poem Silva myrtea (‘The Fields

of Sorrow’) by the 4th-century Latin poet

Ausonius. The text’s mood of mournful

twilight wandering is established through

a gently striding harp. The harmony suspends

itself between open arpeggios and thick

chromaticism, the sweetness of each tonal

chord dissolving as swiftly it is tasted, like

sugar in hot tea. At the midpoint, with the

mention of running streams, the pace

quickens. But this is a temporary change –

the waters are not flowing, and the dim

light of twilight returns.

Although he is not an especially religious

man, Hallgrímsson has often turned to

Christian-inspired texts in his vocal music –

the most obvious example being his Passía.

Baldur Óskarsson (b 1932), one of the

authors set in that work, is an old friend of

the composer, and was the source for the

text for Níunda Stund, a meditation on

“the ninth hour”, or the hour of Christ’s

death on the Cross.

Hallgrímsson’s setting follows the three-part

structure of Óskarsson’s poem, which

focuses in turn on the descent to earth

of a prophetic angel; some of the physical

signs of the moment of Christ’s death, as

described in Matthew 27; and us today,

looking back to find meaning. The music

follows the imagery of the text closely:

a hushed cluster explodes into a fanfare

announcing the angel’s arrival; tense

chromaticism evokes the piercing beam of

light that strikes the gravestones and awakens

the dead, and the eldritch sight of “blood on

the moon”; a fragmented texture is our

modern-day uncertainty. Only at the end –

with the words “Let us hold hands” – do the

voices come together in some sort of

conditional unity.

Hallgrímsson has set Michelangelo’s Sonnet

LXXVIII once before. On that occasion it

appeared in one of his highest profile works,

Ríma, for soprano and string orchestra, a

commission for the Lillehammer Winter

Olympics of 1994. This second take is more

modest, composed in memory of the

harpsichordist, Helga Ingólfsdóttir.

Michelangelo’s text is sombre enough, but to

avoid morbidity, Hallgrímsson has cut three

lines that dwell explicitly on death. By this

simple means he is able to substitute the

darkest drama of Michelangelo’s poem for a

quiet and resolute reflection. The remaining

text divides into three stanzas. The first and

third are set in the simplest hymn-like

homophony, and provide ample opportunity

to appreciate Hallgrímsson’s harmonic skill,

as the texture gently thickens and thins, the

tone turns sweet or sour. The melody of the

second stanza, in which the poetic voice

briefly turns to the first person singular,

is given to the sopranos alone, with the lower

voices providing a soft underbed. Each stanza

ends with a variation of the opening “O night”

refrain, and again there are slow shifts from

shade to light, like clouded moonlight.

Endurkoma (‘Return’) is another religiouslyinspired

text, this time an image of Christ’s

return at the end of the world. It was written

by the Icelandic poet Hannes Pétursson

(b. 1931), whose poetry Hallgrímsson also

set in Passía. Like several works on this disc,

it has been revised. In its original version it

was considerably larger and more dramatic,

and involved four double basses and

percussion. The revision has compressed,

shortened and refocused the score.

It has not lost its essential dramatic shape,

however – a movement in the text from

violent arrival (God forging his way to

earth at the speed of light) to grace and

gentleness (Him passing no judgment) that

is matched in the music. At the start the

music is characterised by a loud dynamic,

dazzling harmonies and syncopated rhythms.

Even the range of the singers (from low E

in the basses to top B in the sopranos) is

deployed to emphasise the sense of

apocalyptic ecstasy. No longer bound to a

communal spirit, solo voices or pairs of

voices repeatedly burst out of the texture.

Over the course of four minutes, however,

each of these dimensions is calmed until at

the very end an even, chorale-like serenity is


A final memorial piece comes in the form of

Your Image. This has a dual dedication, to

Einar Vigfússon, one of Hallgrímsson’s former

teachers, and Mary Miller, a blind music lover

who took many music students as lodgers in

her London home. Vigfússon was the first to

stay with her, and, when he moved to London

to study at the Royal Academy, it was natural

that Hallgrímsson should too. He describes

her today as “the closest I have known to

a saint”.

The music sets lines from two poems by

Salvatore Quasimodo (1901–1968): three

from his well-known Enemy of Death, and his

complete short poem Suddenly it is Evening.

The former take up the first of two short

movements. In the second both poems,

“like two little trees that intertwine”, says

the composer, are increasingly woven together.

The music throughout treads an honest path

between lament and anger, with agitated

outbursts that are soothed into a more gentle


As shown by its singable melody and resonant

harmonies, Hallgrímsson’s music has faith in

certain absolutes of beauty. But at the same

time it is aware of the fragile line on which

our existence stands. Everything in his music –

harmony, rhythm, mode – is ever-changing,

resisting the arrogance of certainty. This is

clearest in the final piece on this album,

composed for the “Sailors’ Sermon”, a service

held every May in Reykjavík to honour those

who are among the most respectful of natural

forces that they cannot conquer – North

Atlantic fishermen.

The text combines a psalm translation by

the 16th-century German priest Burkard

Waldis with two short verses by Hallgrímur

Pétursson (1614–1674), taken from his

Passíusálmar (‘Passion Hymns’). A former

fisherman himself, Pétursson was an important

contributor to Lutheran hymnody and is one

of Iceland’s most beloved religious poets.

(The Hallgrímskirkja in Reykjavík, Iceland’s

largest church and where this album was

recorded, was built in his honour.)

Hallgrímsson’s original setting was intended

only for a single performance in 1996. For

this recording he has revised the work,

elaborating it considerably into an almost

fantastical whirl of sound. In between

declamatory choral phrases, organ, trumpet

and harp spin out waves of ornamented

scales that ripple over each other. If this is

an evocation of the sea, it is beautiful and

awesome, yet also other-worldly and

unknowable. One can hear too an echo of

the distant lur in Rúra, rúra barni.

As an outsider, it is tempting to distill this

spirit of Hallgrímsson’s music into something

essentially Icelandic, something of the raw

land of fire and ice at the remotest,

northernmost corner of Europe. The

composer himself would probably resist

such a national characterisation.

And yet “Landscape probably influences us

more than we realise,” he admits. “In

Iceland we see a lot of dramatic landscape.

The interior of the country is bleak, disturbing

in a way. Nature is serious ... It has a quiet

inner rapture."

© 2013 Tim Rutherford-Johnson

Tim Rutherford-Johnson is a freelance editor

and prolific writer on contemporary music.

He founded and maintains one of the first

internet blogs on contemporary classical

music, and among his publications is the sixth

edition of the Concise Oxford Dictionary of Music.

Scores of the works from this recording can

be obtained from the Icelandic Music

Information Centre (

Schola Cantorum Reykjavík

(Photography: Rut Ingólfsdóttir)

Texts & translations

(Excluding original texts in copyright)

Myrtuskógur (continued)

Níunda Stund (continued)

Endurkoma (continued)

All English translations by Sigurður Ingólfsson

1. Rúra, rúra barni (Sleep, sleep now darling)

Rúra, rúra barni

Krýtin steður í jarni.

Mammam situr og treskir korn

Pápin blæsur í lúðurhorn

Systirin seymar gullið uppá barnið

Vil ikki barnið tiga

Tak um legg slá í vegg,

So skal barnið tiga

Sleep now darling, sleep,

All evil is held at bay,

Mother sits to grind the corn,

father blows his lur

sister is sowing gold on your dress

hush little darling hush now

take a leg, hit the wall.

Then the child will sleep.

Faeroese folk song


Errantes silva in magna et sub luce maligna

inter harundinesque comas gravidumque papaver

et tacitos sine labe lacus, sine murmure rivos,

quorum per ripas nebuloso lumine marcent

fleti, olim regum et puerorum nomina, flores.

Wandering through a great forest at twilight,

between reeds rich with poppies

a spotlessly silent lake, barely makes a sound.

The flowers on the banks as a light swathed in mist

the lily droops her head having borne the

names of princes and kings.

Ausonius (c. 310 – c. 394)

Níunda Stund (Ninth Hour)

3. Engill (Angel)

He gathered the clouds and

lit the rainbow over his head,

held forth the book, stepped,

feet burning onto the earth – onto the ocean.

Within the darkness I heard the thunders talking.

4. Níunda Stund (Ninth Hour)

A piercing beam of light

through the palm

struck the burial mounds, opened the graves.

They looked up

and saw blood on the moon.

5. Nótt (Night)

It is still written on the tablets.

Where do we go

Seer, you who dwell upon the predictions

within fallen walls.

Silent houses and

the frame – a gleaming quadrant.

World of light, let us hold hands.

And the knot of time will never be undone,


Baldur Óskarsson (b. 1932)

6. Endurkoma (Return)

With the sound of trumpets

I learned that he would come

- on the speed of light.

in the fullness of time.

Forging his way

a blue wall through the clouds

and from the highest heavens

down to the ocean and the land

he will be seen

as white as lighting.

Will he arrive like this

Or will he just come like the ray

who now ascends the mountain

on the golden orange evening cloud

- a staff of light touching

the earth in silence and grace.

passing no judgement

on the living or the dead

Hannes Pétursson (b. 1931)

7. Sónhenda LXXVIII

Oh night, how sweet your darkest moment

Who metes out peace at the end of every day.

If men have sight and sense they will adore you

And bow to you in their uncowed spirit .

With you we throw away all fear and frailty

Drowning in the silent web of darkness,

Embraced by dreams till the heavens open

You carry me from earth up towards my hopes.

Absorbed in darkest shadow wrought in silence

And blithely dries our tears and makes us stronger

And frees the righteous ones from anger and sorrows.

Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475-1564)

Icelandic version: Þorsteinn Gylfason (1942-2005)

8. Your Image

Text by:

Salvatore Quasimodo (1901-1968)

English version by Jack Bevan (b. 1920)

9. Lofið Guð I hans helgidómi

(Praise the Lord in his hallowed house)

Lofið guð í hans helgi dóm

Kristnir menn á jörðu

Segi lof, þökk með sinum róm

Svo orð hans viðfræg yrðu.

Þau um lönd öll hljómi snjöll

Hans makt og heidri lysi

Hátign vors guðs þeir prísi.

Praise the Lord in his hallowed house

All Christians here on earth

Sing his praise and your gratitude

To give fame to his every word

The words in every land

The words resounding with greatness

Showing his grace and wisdom

The highness of the Lord abounding

Gísli Jónsson (c. 1515 - 1587)

Þú gafst mér akurinn þinn

Þér gef ég aftur minn

Ást þina á ég ríka

Eigðu mitt hjarta líka

Lofið Guð (continued)

Ég gefi og allan pér

Á medan ég tóri hér

Ávöxtinn yðju minnar

Í garði kristinnar þinnar.

You gave me your field

To you I give mine back.

Of your love I have aplenty

so please accept my heart.

I would give you everything

while I‘m alive, your praise to sing

from the road my religion yields

to the roots of my Christian fields

Séra Hallgrímur Pétursson (1614-1674)

Schola Cantorum Reykjavík


Birna Helgadóttir

Elfa Martét Ingvadóttir*

Halldóra Viðarsdóttir

Margrét Sigurðardóttir*

Særún Harðardóttir


Auður Guðjohnsen

Guðrún Edda Gunnarsdóttir*

Hildigunnur Einarsdóttir

Jóhanna Ósk Valsdóttir

Also singing in Rura, rura barni & Sónhenda:

Sólveig Samúelsdóttir* (alto), Örn Arnarson (tenor) and Matti Kallio (bass).



Ásdís Kristmundsdóttir

Lára Bryndís Eggertsdóttir

Margrét Sigurðardóttir

Þórunn Vala Valdimarsdóttir.


Guðrún Edda Gunnarsdóttir,

Guðrún Finnbjarnardóttir,

Jóhanna Ósk Valsdóttir,

Sólveig Samúelsdóttir.

*Octet in Níunda stund


Björn Thorarensen

Helgi Steinar Helgason*

Halldór Hauksson

Skarpéðinn Þór Hjartarson*


Benedikt Ingólfsson*

Hafsteinn Þórólfsson*

Hreiðar Ingi Þorsteinsson

Egill Gunnarsson


Björn Thorarensen

Guðmundur Vignir Karlsson

Þorbjörn Sigurðsson

Örn Arnarson.


Alex Ashworth

Benedikt Ingólfsson

Hjálmar P. Pétursson

Stefán Sigurjónsson.

Schola Cantorum Reykjavík

The Schola Cantorum Reykjavík was founded

by the conductor and cantor at Reykjavík’s

Hallgrímskirkja, Hördur Áskelsson, in 1996.

With a constantly growing reputation

both at home and abroad the choir regularly

performs a wide repertoire, ranging from

Renaissance through to contemporary music,

and regularly appears in the Festival of Sacred

Arts at the Hallgrímskirkja.

Internationally the Schola Cantorum has

performed in Norway, Finland, Germany,

Italy, Spain, Japan and in France, where

the choir won top prize in the prestigious

Picardy International Choir Competition

in 1998.

A year later the Schola Cantorum made its

debut recording, Principium, an album of

Renaissance works and two years later they

recorded a disc of contemporary Icelandic

music, Audi Creator Coeli.

In their most recent release, Foldarskart

(Earths bright gems), Schola Cantorum sings

many of Iceland´s most beloved songs,

including arrangement of old folk songs.

Schola Cantorum has also participated in

recordings of choral orchestral works by

the Icelandic composer Jón Leifs (1899−1968)

with the Iceland Symphony Orchestra,

(issued on the Swedish label, BIS) as well as

recording and performing with artists as

Björk, Sigur Rós and the Swedish experimental

band Wildbirds & Peacedrums.

The Schola was appointed the City of Reykjavík

Official Music Group in 2006 and was also

nominated for the 2007 Nordic Music Prize.

More titles from Resonus Classics

This Christmas Night: Contemporary Carols

Including ‘Joseph and the Angel’ by Hafliði Hallgrímsson

The Choir of Worcester College, Oxford

Stephen Farr (conductor and organ)


‘Stephen Farr directs delectably sensitive performances,

and the sound is immaculate’

BBC Music Magazine, Christmas Choice 2012

In The Dark: Choral Works

Platinum Consort

Scott Inglis-Kidger (conductor)


‘This is a hugely impressive debut from the Platinum Consort

[...] whose gloriously clean and focused sound is perfectly

captured in this meticulously recorded sound’

The Observer

© 2013 Resonus Limited

è2013 Resonus Limited

Recorded in the Hallgrímskirkja, Reykjavík, Iceland during

February 2008 (Myrtuskógur), February 2011 and March 2012.

Producer, & Engineer: Sveinn Kjartansson

Executive Producer: Adam Binks

Recorded at 24-bit / 96kHz resolution

Cover painting: Hafliði Hallgrímsson

With thanks to the Reykjavík Cultural Fund; The Ministry of Education, Science

and Culture of Iceland; the Friends of Hallgrímskirkja Arts Society and Sigurður Ingólfsson

for their assistance in the making of this recording.




More magazines by this user
Similar magazines